1982. On the front page of the local section of the town newspaper. A turntable to the left of me. A turntable to the right. My feet up on the desk, careful not to touch the pots and switches. Leaning back in my chair while the newspaper photographer takes a picture of the “teen deejay” who “says his job is real groovy.”
I didn’t say that, but it didn’t stop the writer from putting those words in my mouth. I also didn’t like being called a “teen deejay.” At nineteen, I thought it was a bit pointless. It was a diminution.
I never set out to work in radio, which is, the media experts tell us, nearly dead. I don’t know if I entirely agree, but it’s true that the vitality of broadcasting is much reduced from its former glory, a glide-path that tilted down when Americans began buying lots of TV sets. It was Howdy Doody time then. It’s Howdy Doody time now, just with more fear and loathing and plagues.
I filled out my first job application on June 30, 1980, to be an announcer at the small-town AM-FM combo in Belle Glade, Florida. I was still in high school but needed to start earning money. Sitting in a studio spinning records seemed a better proposition than working in the local drug store’s stock room.
I still work in the medium 40 years on. Not so much a personality now as a news anchor, news being another thing I never set out to do, but happily found my way into, and now relish. I love being a news anchor, though I’m a little disappointed it’s not quite like Phil Hartman in Newsradio.
I also write poetry, which is another thing that’s decomposing on the ash heap of literature, literature itself something else that’s nearly dead. Some say poetry is a rotting corpse because who the hell reads or appreciates it anymore?
I write short stories, too, but they meet with much the same response. There was a very brief interest in some of them from a movie and TV producer looking for fresh ideas. He liked a few, didn’t like others, but in the final analysis, he didn’t like anything enough to call me back after our meeting. I haven’t decided yet if I’m ready to pursue more.
So why do I still write?
Good gods, what a great question.
It’s easier to answer the question, why am I still in radio? Simple. I like talking into a microphone. There are plenty of other things I love about radio, but they all essentially shoot from that one root.
Also, it’s really the only paying job I’ve ever had. As long as someone wants to pay me for it, I can keep doing until Howdy Doody shows up to take me away.
So, I’ve logged 40 years now. If my broadcast waves make it out into space and some alien race has the technological wherewithal to pick them up, they’ve got to be somewhere within 40 light-years… right in the galactic neighborhood. I wonder what their favorite songs are and what imaging made the biggest impact.
But some of them have also had the chance to see our television, and good gods, how much will they want to wipe us out once they see human beings beat each other up over paternity tests?
I’m not worried too much about that. I have a feeling that our galactic neighborhood isn’t a good one. I think it’s one that aliens avoid. Good news for us.
So, while I wait hopelessly for the spacefaring Tralfamadorians to notice us and fix our planet, I reflect back on four decades in this crazy business. The main things that come to mind are the great people I’ve had the opportunity to work with and learn from. (I won’t mention their names because they might not think as highly of me as I think of them, and I wouldn’t want to tarnish their reputations.)
Some other highlights were my afternoon-drive stint in Miami at a station that was ahead of its time, where I got to be who I wanted to be on the air. Another was as a programmer at a national satellite network where I got to create a format from scratch that I could run the way I wanted to run it.
I’m sensing a pattern here.
I’ve ridden my way from small-town Belle Glade, Florida, to Stuart, Florida, to Orlando, Miami, and then the big-time of Los Angeles.
I’ve now been in L.A. for the majority of my career. And like most of the other big developments in my professional life, I’ve followed the river where it led me, happy to enjoy the view and to find my place in this absurd universe. I’ve got a rickety raft to ride this river, but it’s my raft, and I’ve made the best of it.